A troublesome verb for Arabic learners
It is my mission to help ease the struggle that Arabic learners face in taking on a language as challenging as Arabic, which I have been learning now for 15 years.
Of course, here on the podcast, we focus on the vernacular or colloquial, in other words, the spoken language specifically when it comes to Levantine Arabic, which is spoken in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine.
Since coaching language learners is my passion, I get to hear about all the elements of Arabic that learners have trouble with as outsiders to the language.
To Like or to Love?
One of those such challenges is understanding how to express that you like something. Many non-native speakers choose the simplest way to express this by saying that they love something: انا بحب هذا الشي
And most of the time this works.
Much like English, we often use the concept of love to describe our feelings and our family, and in the same breath, use love to exclaim our appreciation for chocolate or something else that we enjoy.
Of course, these things are not loved to the same degree or in the same way.
[00:01:11] In Arabic, there are similar nuances to consider. For example, I remember in the early years of hiring staff for the center that I wanted to say to our hiring manager that I “liked” the fellow that we had just interviewed. In Arabic I said, “انا حبيته”.
The manager who had conducted the interview alongside me was a bit confused. I must have said it more like a question and I knew it didn’t quite fit when it came out. In that situation, the manager told me, “it’s more suitable to say that you liked him.” I could have said, “عجبتني شخصيته,” for example.
It was at that moment that I realized while most of the time saying you love someone works, it doesn’t always fit the situation culturally. Of course, I didn’t love the applicant that I had just met, but I certainly liked his mannerisms and personality.
However, I had no idea at the time how to express that sentiment.
Let’s talk about the other way to express satisfaction or delight in something in spoken Levantine Arabic.
Using the verb “like” / عجب in Levantine Arabic
The verb one needs to add to their vocabulary is عجب.
One reason you hear Arabic language learners use this verb less often is that it is a bit more confusing to wrap your mind around.
Why? It’s actually the object of reference that creates the effect or the action.
For example, if it’s a feminine object such as coffee / قهوة
It has a تاء مربوطة at the end.
The verb will then reflect that. We’ll say,
The “ني” being me; it does the action to me.
“عجبت” refers to the coffee.
If it’s a masculine word like شاي, for example, then we would say,
If it’s plural, like clothes, then we would say,
The verb is, in essence, having the impact on you.
One way to think of this is that the thing itself pleases you, it causes you to adore it, or like it.
Examples of how to use “like” / عجب in Levantine Arabic
Let’s hear a few more examples in Arabic.
I liked the pants.
I liked the shirt.
I liked my sister’s clothes.
اواعي أختي عجبوني
Nearly everything can be said, choosing either like/بعجب or love/بحب, as a verb in sentences.
But there are certainly some contexts where it is better to go with عجب. There’s not an exact rule but think of times you might want to distance yourself from the concept of love to something less familiar.
For example, you can say like or love for food, clothes or a store. But you might describe a stranger you interview, someone’s actions, their character (تصرفات, we would say, or سلوكيات أو أسلوبه) with عجب.
To help you better understand the level or degrees of application think of these sentences:
بحب هاد المطعم كتير والاكل العربي عنده بعجبني
بحب زوجي وبتعجبني تصرفاته
بحب زوجي بس ما بتعجبني طريقة حكيه
بحب الأكل العربي بس مش كل اشي بعجبني
This verb (عجب) is often used in questions. After you try on an outfit at the store, for example, the person working there might ask you if you liked it. They probably won’t ask you if you love it. You may buy it even if you don’t love it.
Here’s another question you might hear:
“What do you like in Jordan?”
شو بعجبك بالأردن؟
Your response might be:
“I like the relationships between people a lot.”
العلاقات بين الناس بتعجبني كتير
“I like the culture a lot.”
الثقافة عجبتني كتير
I’m hoping this episode will illuminate a bit of the trick for using precise language and give you more options in expressing yourself.
It takes a bit of practice, so to get that repetition, bring a few objects, both masculine and feminine, into your session and take turns between you and your tutor or nurturer describing your like or dislike of each thing.
“I don’t like that spider, but I like this pen.”
Make a recording of all these possible sentences and even questions about them.
“Do you like these earrings?” for example.
To reinforce practical ways that you might use it in daily application and after listening several times, come back the next day and use different objects. See if that doesn’t help it eventually feel more natural.
This exercise should help you focus on getting the practice you need to create a habit, and that is, after all, the secret; do something until saying it becomes easy.
Once you get that down, maybe explore using بموت عليه, literally “I die for,” but means something more similar to, “I’m crazy about it,” like we would say in American English.
Just another fun way to express your adoration for something in a creative way that will show L1 speakers that you have worked very hard to learn to speak Arabic in ways that they do.